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Boise Co-op Refines Giving Policy

Annual community donations to be cut up to 80 percent in 2012

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Past a frosted unmarked door next to the Boise Co-op Wine Shop and around a towering stack of boxes, a few dozen folks--most of them Co-op employees--gathered for the most recent Co-op board meeting on Feb. 13. After board members finished quoting sales figures and general manager Ben Kuzma gave an update on the store's remodeling plans, longtime board member and Boise City Council Member David Eberle announced his resignation.

Eberle explained he was leaving the Co-op board because of time constraints with his new job and, after praising recent changes at the North End grocery store, gave the board some words of caution:

"We have traditionally been a store that has served the community back, whether it's something fun like the Tour de Fat or whether it's helping some of the charities in town," said Eberle. "That is more than an advertising role, it is also a responsibility, in my opinion, of all corporations. ... We should be a leader ... in giving back to the community as how to do it right so that we can make Boise one of the most livable places in the world."

Eberle was referring to a recent "refining" of the Co-op's giving policy, which has reigned in charitable donations from more than $200,000 in 2011 down to a cap of $3,000 a month--or $36,000 annually--for 2012.

During the audience comment and question portion of the board meeting, a Co-op member asked for clarification on the changes, and newly minted Co-op Marketing Manager Lee Clinton explained that up to $2,500 of the monthly donations will come from the Co-op's Shop for Good Program--which offers one qualifying nonprofit 4 percent of total store sales one day a month.

"From my brief experience here--in the five weeks I've been here in my period of discovery and assessment--the Co-op never said no to anybody to any donation request to any sponsorships to anything," said Clinton. "And the record-keeping was woefully inadequate: no spreadsheets, no tracking, no totaling."

Clinton went on to explain that the Co-op is trying to be more focused with how it gives back to the community.

"We don't have the intention of cutting off the community. Our goal is to really reach the people in our community a little deeper," Clinton said. "Instead of the scattershot of saying 'yes' to everybody, we're hoping to foster really long-term and deeper relationships with people that will support us in return."

According to the Co-op's 2011 Annual Report, it supported at least 36 local organizations in 2011, including Idaho Public Television, Boise State Radio, Capital City Public Market, Think Boise First, Life's Kitchen, Boise Bicycle Project, Sustainable Community Connections, Global Gardens and more.

One local nonprofit that has been affected by these recent changes is the i48 Film Festival. According to Josie Pusl, a director of i48 and a True West Inc. board member, the Co-op has donated between $2,250-$2,500 annually to the event for the past eight years.

"It was definitely helpful. They were our title sponsor and they usually sponsored the prize money so we were certainly happy to have it but we'll get by without it," said Pusl.

Pusl is currently looking for other cash sponsors so i48 can move forward in 2012 and beyond. She said she plans to apply to the Co-op's Shop For Good program.

"It's too bad. We've been working with [The Co-op] since back in the days of True West. ... They've been a great partner with us and we're sad to not have them, but you know, we understand," said Pusl. "They've got a lot of stuff going on and they have to make their choices."

In a follow-up email, Clinton further explained the Co-op's refined giving programs:

"Boise Co-op is first and foremost a business. We must employ sustainable business practices to be able to continue to support and sponsor like-minded organizations with synergistic goals."

She also added:

"Due to the large number of applicants, we are unable to fulfill every request, but our commitment to support as many community organizations as possible remains strong."